Mastering the Art of Stew - Tru-Burn



Mastering the Art of Stew - Tru-Burn
Mastering the Art of Stew
A little know-how goes a long way toward avoiding common mistakes when making
stews. Here’s how to get it right every time. by keith dresser
Choosing the Right Meat
Choosing the proper cut of meat is the single most important part of making a great stew. We like to use cuts from
the shoulder area, because they have the best combination
of flavor and texture. Meat from this region is well marbled
with fat, which means it won’t dry out during long, slow
cooking. In chicken, the high percentage of intramuscular
fat in thigh meat makes this part the preferred choice. For
the best results, we like to cut our own stew meat (see “Cut
Your Own Meat,” page 17).
We like pork butt (also
called Boston shoulder or
Boston butt) for its great
flavor, but the less-expensive
and slightly fattier picnic shoulder
is also a fine choice.
We love the beefy taste and
exceptional tenderness of chuckeye roast. Another good option:
the chuck 7-bone roast.
Roasts from the lamb shoulder
can be hard to find, so we rely on
shoulder-cut chops such as the
round-bone for our stews. This
chop has bold taste mellowed by
long cooking, and its bones are
a bonus that add extra flavor to
the pot. An alternative choice is
the blade chop.
Key E q u i p m e n t
K e y f l avo r e n h a n c e r s
dutch oven
A Dutch oven is essential for making stew. Look for
one that is twice as wide as it is high, with a minimum
capacity of 6 quarts (7 or 8 is even better). The bottom should be thick, so food browns evenly and the
pot retains heat during cooking. The pot should also
have a tight-fitting lid to prevent excess evaporation.
While broth is not as central to the
flavor of stew as it is to soup, choosing a high-quality brand is still important. And using a low-sodium broth
is essential; as the liquid in a stew
reduces, regular full-sodium broth
can turn the stew too salty and ruin
the flavor.
Test Kitchen winner:
le creuset
Round French
Oven, $229.95
best buy:
(Tramontina 6.5 Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven, $39.86
heatproof spatula
Wooden spoons are things of the past. Our favorite
spatula is rigid enough to stir a thick stew yet flexible
enough to get into the tight corners of a pot when
deglazing. Throw in the fact that its surface won’t
stain, and what’s not to like?
Pork butt
Test Kitchen winner:
(Rubbermaid 13.5-Inch High Heat Scraper,
Chuck Eye
The extra fat and connective tissue
in thigh meat make it better suited
than breast meat for stew; it also chicken thigh
separates more easily from the
bone than does drumstick meat. We use skin-on thighs
to protect the meat and keep it from overcooking and
drying out during browning. Both the bones and fat lend
stronger chicken flavor.
After flipping thousands of batches of
cubed meat, we’ve come to value
a good pair of tongs. Our
favorite handily picks up
the smallest pieces of
meat without tearing
or mashing.
Test Kitchen winner:
(OXO Good Grips 12-Inch Locking Tongs, $10.39
A ladle is definitely the best tool for dividing
portions among individual bowls; it’s also useful for skimming fat from the surface of the
stew before serving.
Test Kitchen winner:
(Rösle Ladle with
Pouring Rim & Hook
Handle, $26.95
Test Kitchen
swanson Certified Organic
Free Range Chicken Broth and
PACIFIC Beef Broth
When a stew calls for wine, many
cooks will grab the least-expensive
bottle on hand. But even in small
amounts, there is no hiding the taste
of bad wine. In the test kitchen, we
prefer the fuller, more complex flavor
of wine made with more than one
grape variety.
Test Kitchen winner:
cÔtes dU rhÔne or other
fruity wine with little or no oak
In general, we prefer darker ales to
lighter lagers for the rich, full flavor
they impart to stew (lager can leave
stews tasting watery). As long as
they’re dark, nonalcoholic ales will
work equally well.
Test Kitchen winnerS:
Amber and dark-colored
tomato paste
A small amount of tomato paste added to a stew along
with the aromatics brings depth and color, and its slight
acidity enhances the flavor of other ingredients.
amore Tomato Paste
I ll u st r at io n : J o hn B u r g oy n e
Stew is kitchen alchemy that turns a marginal cut of
meat and some basic vegetables into something rich,
flavorful, and much more interesting. Even better, stew
generally requires little preparation or effort; time and
gentle simmering do all the work. That said, we’ve all
had (or made) stews with tough meat, listless vegetables, and dull, watery broth. Over the years, we’ve
learned which steps produce a superior stew.
H ow Lo n g D o e s I t Ta k e : V e g e ta b l e s
Below are some common stew vegetables and general guidelines for how long
to cook them. In many cases, you will be adding the vegetables once the stew
has been cooking in the oven for a while.
10 steps to better stew
1. Cut Your Own Meat
Packaged stew meat is often made up of
irregularly shaped scraps that cook at varying
rates. Cut your own stew meat to guarantee
same-sized chunks that share the same flavor
and cooking time. Use fatty, flavorful cuts
from the shoulder, or chuck, that will stay
moist with extended cooking.
2. Skip the Flour Before Browning
Contrary to popular belief, dusting meat
with flour before searing it doesn’t help it
brown better. In fact, we have found just
the opposite. The flour itself darkens a little, but the meat remains pale and doesn’t
develop the intense flavor compounds that
are the goal of browning. Instead of flouring, pat stew meat dry and season it with
salt and pepper before browning.
1- to 11/2-inch cubes
cooking time
1 hour
sliced ¼ to 1/2 inch thick
1 hour
sliced ¼ to 1/2 inch thick
1 hour
Sweet Potatoes
quartered and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 hour
1/2-inch dice
45 minutes
1/2-inch dice
45 minutes
Canned Beans
45 minutes
Frozen Vegetables
do not thaw
15 to 20 minutes
Hearty Greens
washed and chopped
20 to 30 minutes
Tender Greens
washed and chopped
1 to 2 minutes
Fresh Herbs
Stir in off heat
H ow Lo n g D o e s I t Ta k e : m e at
3. Brown Meat Properly
Crowding the pan with too much meat or using inadequate heat can cause meat
to steam (rather than brown) and ultimately lose flavor. To avoid this problem,
add the meat only after the oil begins to smoke and leave plenty of space (about
½ inch) between pieces (this means no more than 1 pound of meat per batch).
Turn only when the first side is well seared.
Because meat varies in moisture and fat content, pinpointing cooking times is
not an exact science. The chart below offers general guidelines.
4. If Fond Burns, Remove It
Browning meat in more than two batches can lead to a pan covered by burnt
(rather than browned) fond that can impart a bitter flavor to the stew. If the fond
is blackening, add a little water to the empty pot and scrape the fond to loosen it.
Discard burnt bits and water and wipe the pot clean. Add fresh oil and proceed
with the next batch of meat.
cube size
approx. cooking time
Beef, Pork, and Lamb
1 to11/2 inches
2 to 21/2 hours
Beef, Pork, and Lamb
11/2 to 2 inches
21/2 to 3 hours
Chicken Thighs
30 to 60 minutes
5. SautÉ Aromatics to
Enhance Flavor
Recipes that call for dumping spices and
aromatics, such as garlic and onion, into
the pot at the same time as the liquid
fail to maximize their flavor. So hold the
liquid and sauté these flavor-enhancing
ingredients first.
8. Simmer Stew in Oven
To ensure a steady, gentle simmer
that allows the internal temperature of the meat to rise slowly and
eliminates the risk of scorching
the pot bottom, cook the stew
in a covered Dutch oven at 300
degrees. This will keep the temperature of the stewing liquid below
the boiling point (212 degrees)
and ensure meat that is tender, not
6. Flour Aromatics to
Thicken Stew
Many recipes call for thickening a stew at
the end of cooking by leaving the lid off,
but this method risks overcooking. Thicken
stew at the beginning of the cooking process by sprinkling flour over the sautéed
aromatics. Cook the flour for a minute or
two to remove any raw flour taste.
9. Cook Meat Until
Fall-Apart Tender
When meat is undercooked, its fat
and connective tissue have not had
the chance to break down sufficiently, and it will taste rubbery and
tough. Cook meat to the point where collagen has melted down
into gelatin. This yields tender meat that separates easily when
pulled apart with two forks. (See “How Long Does It
Take: Meat,” above.)
7. Stagger Addition
of Vegetables
When vegetables are dumped indiscriminately into the pot at the outset of cooking, they not only lose flavor and turn mushy, but also water down the stew. Take
into account the cooking time of individual vegetables (see “How Long Does It
Take: Vegetables,” above) and add them at the appropriate time.
10. Defat Before Serving
Pour stew liquid into a narrow container before
defatting. This will create a thicker layer of fat
that’s easier to remove. Alternatively, refrigerate
the stew overnight. When the fat solidifies, it can
be lifted right off.

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